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Psychology vs Philosophy: Difference Between Psychology and Philosophy

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10th Feb, 2021
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Psychology vs Philosophy: Difference Between Psychology and Philosophy

Psychology and philosophy share the same roots: both study primarily of human beings, although one revolves around what the human condition is (philosophy), while the other tries to understand why the human condition is what it is (psychology) and how it functions exactly, given particular contextual locations.

However, in terms of historical approaches, philosophy far precedes psychology, being born several centuries before the birth of psychology officially took place.

This needs to be clarified right at the beginning, that although the fields share similarities, one clearly outweighs the other in terms of the time of conception, as well as overall concern. Owing to this fact, all of the psychology can be said to be a part of philosophy, at least in as much as all psychological positions have philosophical underpinnings or precedents.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of the differences. Given that the scope of these subjects is vast and that it won’t be possible to do justice to them without delivering several hours’ worth of lectures, the explanations will be brief. But they will definitely convey the spirit of both the fields!

Differences Between Psychology and Philosophy

1. Philosophy Studies all of the Wisdom, While Psychology Studies “The Soul”

Philosophy’s central concern is significantly vaster than that of psychology. While psychology only takes a look at how human beings function, what are their motivations, what determines their likes and dislikes, etc., philosophy asks larger questions about the nature of existence – what is the point of living a life if it can be said to have one? What is the nature of knowledge? How do we know that the nature of our experiences is real and not false?

These are some of the central concerns of philosophy. Psychology, however, looks at the human mind – at perception, memory, and interpersonal relationships. Therefore, psychology has a much more limited set of questions to grapple with. This doesn’t necessarily mean that philosophy is better than psychology, or vice versa. It simply means that they are different fields which have different concerns.

2. Philosophy Tends to be More on the Observational, Notional Spectrum, While Psychology is Usually Observable

Philosophy can be divided into certain branches, such as epistemology (the study of knowledge), phenomenology (the study of experience), axiology (the study of ethics and aesthetics), metaphysics (the study of the nature of reality) and logic. Most of these branches require no physical experimentation to be done – of course, a part of this reason is that there were no experimental labs when philosophy first began in Ancient Greece.

Even now, the concept of philosophical labs doesn’t quite exist. What does exist, however, are the millions of books through which philosophy students conduct their research and arrive at hard-thought answers for their questions. Psychology, on the other hand, relies on observable phenomena, for the most part. There are some exceptions to this since not all schools of psychology are eminently observable (psychoanalysis being a huge example).

But this holds true for the most part, that psychologists do their research through experiments and by analysing data. This is a key bit of difference, even though there is scope for doing just qualitative research in psychology, the opportunities are few and far between – and only if you can prove that there is a certain practical relevance.

3. Studying Philosophy Leads to Significantly Different Jobs Than Studying Psychology

This is perhaps an underrated difference, but in terms of causality, it is definitely something that can’t be ignored. Philosophy is a very demanding subject, as is psychology. But as we saw before, there are certain philosophical stances that can be taken even within psychology. So, for example, the Cognitive Behavioural school of psychology is empiricist, insofar as their conclusions rely completely on observable phenomena.

While psychoanalysis doesn’t rely on rationality at all, posing a challenge to the very foundation of the philosophical pillars of rationality. Again, this is meant to serve as an illustrative example, and shouldn’t be taken on face value. 

The point, basically, is this: that studying psychology leads to very different kinds of employment opportunities than studying philosophy will do. Modes of training and training material aside, this is relevant since a psychologist can end up as a researcher, a psychotherapist, or a counsellor.

However, a philosophy graduate will more likely find jobs as a tertiary educator, writer, researcher, and academic writer. This is definitely the kind of information that can change the direction a person wants to take – and even change what they consider doing for their bachelor’s degree!

Also Read: Psychology vs Sociology

Nurture your Curiosity

Now that you’re aware of the differences between psychology and philosophy, you should have more clarity about exactly what you want to study going forward. But the best part about having such a wide range of literature to choose from when it comes to studying is perhaps one of the best things about studying in the first place!

So don’t worry too much about which of your interests lies squarely in which field, because there’s a great chance of a huge overlap. Just focus on doing a degree in the larger field, and keep nurturing all your small curiosities!


Psychology offers interesting job prospects for those who find themselves inclined towards studying people and finding out all about how they work. And if you’re interested in the field, you should definitely pursue a career in it!

If you’re worried that you don’t have these skills yet – well, that’s what you will learn as you study Psychology, so that’s not going to be a problem at all! You should take the first couple of steps on a very long journey, and the rest will fall into place.


Sandeep Pereira

Blog Author
Responsible for working with the various teams and other management to establish long-range goals, strategies, plans and policies and set up new programs at upGrad. With a demonstrated history of working in the EdTech industry.
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